A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Clementi, Muzio
CLEMENTI, Muzio, born at Rome 1752, died at Evesham March 9 [App. p.594 "March 10"], 1832. Clementi's father, an accomplished workman in silver, himself of a musical turn, observed the child's uncommon musical gifts at an early period, and induced a relation of the family, Buroni, choirmaster at one of the churches at Rome, to teach him the rudiments. In 1759 Buroni procured him lessons in thorough bass from an organist, Condicelli [App. p.594 "Cordicelli"], and after a couple of years' application he was thought sufficiently advanced to compete for an appointment as organist, which he obtained. Meanwhile his musical studies were continued assiduously; Carpani taught him counterpoint and Sartarelli singing. When barely 14 Clementi had composed several contrapuntal works of considerable size, one of which, a mass, was publicly performed, and appears to have created a sensation at Rome. An English gentleman, Mr. Bedford, or Beckford, with some difficulty induced Clementi's father to give his consent to the youth's going to England, when Beckford offered to defray the expenses of his further education and introduce him to the musical world of London. Until 1770 Clementi quietly pursued his studies, living at the house of his protector in Dorsetshire. Then, fully equipped with musical knowledge, and with an unparalleled command of the instrument, he came upon the town as a pianist and composer. His attainments were so phenomenal that he carried everything before him, and met with a most brilliant, hardly precedented, success. From 1777 to 80 he acted as cembalist, i. e. conductor, at the Italian Opera in London. In 1781 Clementi started on his travels, beginning with a series of concerts at Paris; from thence he passed, via Strasburg and Munich, to Vienna, where he made the acquaintance of Haydn, and where, at the instigation of the Emperor Joseph II, he engaged in a sort of musical combat at the pianoforte with Mozart. Clementi, after a short prelude, played his Sonata in B♭—the opening of the first movement of which was long afterwards made use of by Mozart in the subject of the Zauberflöte overture—and followed it up with a Toccata, in which great stress is laid upon the rapid execution of diatonic thirds and other double stops for the right hand, esteemed very difficult at that time. Mozart then began to preludise, and played some variations; then both alternately read at sight some MS. sonatas of Paisiello's, Mozart playing the allegros and Clementi the andantes and rondos; and finally they were asked by the Emperor to take a theme from Paisiello's sonatas and accompany one another in their improvisations upon it on two pianofortes. The victory, it appears, was left undecided. Clementi ever afterwards spoke with great admiration of Mozart's 'singing' touch and exquisite taste, and dated from this meeting a considerable change in his method of playing: striving to put more mnsic and less mechanical show into his productions. Mozart's harsh verdict in his letters (Jan. 12, 1782; June 7, 1783) was probably just for the moment, but cannot fairly be applied to the bulk of Clementi's work. He disliked Italians; the popular prejudice was in their favour, and they were continually in his way. He depicts Clementi as 'a mere mechanician, strong in runs of thirds, but without a pennyworth of feeling or taste.' But L. Berger, one of Clementi's best pupils, gives the following explanation of Mozart's hard sentence:—'I asked Clementi whether in 1781 he had begun to treat the instrument in his present (1806) style. He answered no, and added that in those early days he had cultivated a more brilliant execution, especially in double stops, hardly known then, and in extemporised cadenzas, and that he had subsequently achieved a more melodic and noble style of performance after listening attentively to famous singers, and also by means of the perfected mechanism of English pianos, the construction of which formerly stood in the way of a cantabile and legato style of playing.'
With the exception of a concert tour to Paris in 1785 Clementi spent all his time up to 1802 in England, busy as conductor, virtuoso, and teacher, and amassing a considerable fortune. He had also an interest in the firm of Longman & Broderip, 'manufacturers of musical instruments, and music-sellers to their majesties.' The failure of that house, by which he sustained heavy losses, induced him to try his hand alone at publishing and pianoforte making; and the ultimate success of his undertaking (still carried on under the name of his associate Mr. Collard) shows him to have possessed commercial talents rare among great artists. In March 1807 property belonging to Clementi's new firm, to the amount of £40,000, was destroyed by fire.
Amongst his numerous pupils, both amateur and professional, he had hitherto trained John B. Cramer and John Field, both of whom soon took rank amongst the first pianists of Europe. In 1802 Clementi took Field, via Paris and Vienna, to St. Petersburg, where both master and pupil were received with unbounded enthusiasm, and where the latter remained in affluent circumstances. On his return to Germany Clementi counted Zeuner, Alex. Klengel, Ludwig Berger, and Meyerbeer amongst his pupils. With Klengel and Berger he afterwards went again to Russia. [App. p.594 adds that "during his continental tour, 1802–10, he married a daughter of Lehmann, the cantor of the Nicolaikirche in Berlin, who, after a journey to Italy with her husband, died in childbirth."] In 1810 he returned to London for good, gave up playing in public, devoted his leisure to composition and his time to business. He wrote symphonies for the Philharmonic Society, which succumbed before those of Haydn, many pianoforte works, and above all completed that superb series of 100 studies, Gradus ad Parnassum (1817), upon which to this day the art of solid pianoforte playing rests. In 1820 and 21 he was again on the continent, spending an entire winter at Leipzig, much praised and honoured. He lived to be 80, and the 12 final years of his life were spent in London. He retained his characteristic energy and freshness of mind to the last. He was married three times, had children in his old age, and shortly before his death was still able to rouse a company of pupils and admirers—amongst whom were J. B. Cramer and Moscheles to enthusiasm with his playing and improvisation. [App. p.594 adds that "he was buried in the south cloister of Westminster Abbey."]
Clementi has left upwards of 100 sonatas, of which about 60 are written for the piano without accompaniment, and the remainder as duets or trios—sonatas with violin or flute, or violin or flute and violoncello; moreover, a duo for two pianos, 6 duets for four hands, caprices, preludes, and 'point d'orgues composés dans le gout de Haydn, Mozart, Kozeluch, Sterkel, Wanhal et Clementi,' op. 19; Introduction à l'art de toucher le piano, avec 50 leçons; sundry fugues, toccatas, variations, valses etc., preludes and exercises remarkable for several masterly canons, and lastly, as his indelible monument, the 'Gradus ad Parnassum' already mentioned.
As Viotti has been called the father of violin-playing, so may Clementi be regarded as the originator of the proper treatment of the modern pianoforte, as distinguished from the obsolete harpsichord. His example as a player and teacher, together with his compositions, have left a deep and indelible mark upon everything that pertains to the piano, both mechanically and spiritually. His works fill a large space in the records of piano-playing; they are indispensable to pianists to this day, and must remain so.
In a smaller way Clementi, like Cherubini in a larger, foreshadowed Beethoven. In Beethoven's scanty library a large number of Clementi's sonatas were conspicuous; Beethoven had a marked predilection for them, and placed them in the front rank of works fit to engender an artistic treatment of the pianoforte; he liked them for their freshness of spirit and for their concise and precise form, and chose them above all others, and in spite of the opposition of so experienced a driller of pianoforte players as Carl Czerny, for the daily study of his nephew.
The greater portion of Clementi's Gradus, and several of his sonatas—for instance the Sonata in B minor, op. 40; the three Sonatas, op. 50, dedicated to Cherubini; the Sonata in F minor, etc.—have all the qualities of lasting work: clear outlines of form, just proportions, concise and consistent diction, pure and severe style; their very acerbity, and the conspicuous absence of verbiage, must render them the more enduring.
Like his Italian predecessor D. Scarlatti, Clementi shows a fiery temperament, and like Scarlatti, with true instinct for the nature of the instrument as it was in his time, he is fond of quick movements—quick succession of ideas as well as of notes; and eschews every sentimental aberration, though he can be pathetic enough if the fit takes him. His nervous organisation must have been very highly strung. Indeed the degree of nervous power and muscular endurance required for the proper execution of some of his long passages of diatonic octaves (as in the Sonata in A, No. 26 of Knorr's edition), even in so moderate a tempo as to leave them just acceptable and no more, from a musical point of view (bearing in mind Mozart's sneer that he writes prestissimo and plays moderato, and recollecting the difference in touch between his piano and ours), is prodigious, and remains a task of almost insuperable difficulty to a virtuoso of to-day, in spite of the preposterous amount of time and labour we now devote to such things.
He is the first completely equipped writer of sonatas. Even as early as his op. 2 the form sketched by Scarlatti, and amplified by Emanuel Bach, is completely systematised, and has not changed in any essential point since, Clementi represents the sonata proper from beginning to end. He played and imitated Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas in his youth; he knew Haydn's and Mozart's in his manhood, and he was aware of Beethoven's in his old age; yet he preserved his artistic physiognomy—the physiognomy not of a man of genius, but of a man of the rarest talents from first to last. He lived through the most memorable period in the history of music. At his birth Handel was alive, at his death Beethoven, Schubert, and Weber were buried.There is an annoying confusion in the various editions of his works: arrangements are printed as originals, the same piece appears under various titles, etc. etc. The so-called complete editions of his solo sonatas—the best, that published by Holle at Wolfenbüttel, and edited by Schumann's friend Julius Knorr, and the original edition of Breitkopf & Härtel, since reprinted by that firm—are both incomplete; the sonatas with accompaniment etc. are out of print, and his orchestral works have not been printed at all. A judicious selection from his entire works, carefully considered with a view to the requirements and probable powers of consumption of living pianists, would be a boon
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